Ultimate Faith.

As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when He reached the Ancient One and was presented before Him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve Him.

We focused for months on strengthening our faith individually and collectively. Now it is time for the test. Wait, no one said there would be a test!

The fact is that the test comes each day. It comes in ways expected and unexpected. It comes amid conflict and at times of peace. The test is this: Who is in charge of my life, who is my leader, and who do I follow?

Oh, ok, that is easy – Jesus.

We think it is that easy, or at least it seems so in our minds. We want to believe that we are all for Jesus, all-in, dedicated disciples of our Lord. Let’s ask some hard test questions.

If I asked, how many of us consider ourselves patriotic citizens of the United States, I am sure most would raise their hands. As citizens, we may be, at any time, called into service, to even place our lives on the line for our country. While we might not be all too happy about the prospect, we would go and do it; it is our duty. But what about service to the Lord, to His Holy Church, the organization He established for His disciples? Would we place our lives on the line for faith in Jesus? Would we be willing to face ridicule to declare the name of our Lord and leader? Would we give up career, home, social status, financial solvency for Jesus?

Some consider themselves politically active. They are quick to throw shade and hate on opponents and rabidly support their political masters, never realizing that they are being used to promote agendas that are against their self-interest. Imagine if they threw off the shackles of political slavery and servitude and spent all that energy on promoting Christ with love and compassion for those who do not know Him. It would change the world. But Jesus would have to be their Lord and leader.

In all these cases, and so many others where our dedications and loyalties are screwed up, we need to assess and recalibrate. Is the Jesus on trial, tortured, mocked, shamed, tried, nailed to the cross my Lord and King? Is He worth my life, my all, my work and sustained effort, possible persecution, mockery, suffering and my potential martyrdom? 

The ultimate test of faith is how much I value Jesus’ kingship in my life. Who is in charge of my life, who is my leader, and who do I follow? Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.” Let is be so in each of our lives. Let us be those who belong to the truth and listen to His voice. For that is all that matters.

Strength of Faith.

“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

We are at the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. Our call to growth in strength of faith is unending – we need to work at it from minute-to-minute; that must not stop. Today we focus on what comes next. What is the outcome for those who are growing ever stronger in faith?

The concept of Christ’s return, the end of the ages, the final judgment is difficult for us. It may be in part because of what we do not know (especially the where and when). The bigger difficulty is our awareness that God’s justice must be satisfied, that we will have to stand before the whole world and be judged, our sins and failings laid bare. That freaks us out!

Of course, people have been playing on the final judgment for centuries. It ranges from freaky visions of the Blessed Mother appearing over tress and hills with dire warnings to certain people who tell us they have seen visions of the end – and we are all going to hell.

Human guilt is used as a powerful motivator to instill fear and to elicit, not necessarily change of behavior, but to engage in a sort of slavery to fear itself or to those who purvey fear. Unfortunately, some churches lead their members to a rollercoaster of fear and dread.

The life for those who are strong in faith is never one of fear and dread. Certainly, we are aware of our accountability before God. We sense our guilt, confess our sin, and resolve to re-enter the path of sanctification over-and-over. When we fall, we know that Jesus is there to lift us up and we do not take His mercy and helpful grace for granted.

The outcome for those who are strong in faith is right there in scripture: the angels [will] gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Listen to the words of our prayers, the Propers of today’s Holy Mass. We hear words like incorruptibledelighthope that lies beyondeternal, and to “stand in peace and safety.” That is what awaits those strong in faith.

We see that the promise of our journey of growth in strength of faith is not fear but rather its opposite – confidence in victory. What Jesus Christ, our Lord, and very particularly our Savior has promised us will occur. We will be gathered in, we will undergo judgment, and we will rejoice in the heavenly kingdom. As Daniel heard, we will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and shall be like the stars forever.

Strength of Faith.

A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. 

We are near the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. In these last two weeks Jesus’ message focuses on the end times, the eschatological moment. Considering His immanent return, we are to offer Him our complete surrender. We are to walk the gospel path even more closely. We are to redouble our efforts in strengthening our faith by placing our full trust in our heavenly Father.

Jesus has been teaching in the Temple. His subject, in the passage from Mark today, is on strength of faith. Jesus compares the weakness of self-interested faith exhibited by Israel’s religious leaders and then points to a poor woman and her total gift, the giving of all she had.

God measures our strength of faith, not in the amount of stuff we do, not by counting, but by the totality of our spirit in doing it. We are measured by how deeply and completely dedicated we are to the gospel way.

Jesus well knew, while teaching in the Temple precincts, that He would completely surrender Himself to His Father’s will in just a few days. His all would be given through the torture of the Passion and His death on the Cross. He also knew that He had to show us the way, and He did so through the example of the widow’s absolute surrender and total trust in God.

Jesus points to the religious leaders of the day. They were honored in everyday language. They were given the head seats at the synagogue and at feasts. The people even stood as they passed by in their flowing white robes. Jesus condemns them for being self-intoxicated, men who even abused their privileges by sponging off the poorest, literally devouring them.

Here in contrast comes the devoted widow. She had nothing but her last two coins. Remember, widows depended on others for support. She had no support network, no friends to help her out. What she had she had, and… she gave it to God. That is an act of Strength. That is an act of Faith. That is trust in the heavenly Father. Her poverty exhibited in the coins she gave, the smallest minted in Palestine, a copper “lepton” worth one eighth of the smallest Roman copper coin, a “quadrans” worth a penny.

Others were literally throwing in (eballon) their gifts, like a rich man burning money. Wrapped in their security blanket, they thew in their ten percent without a thought.

The nature of the widows gift was not in its money value, it was in her total giving. Her placing it (ebalen) showed the motivation behind her gift was total commitment to and trust in God.

As we approach the last days, as we look forward to Jesus’ return, let us live like the Widow – all in.

Strength of Faith

On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have three Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith.

Last night, on the Grand Ole Opry, Carrie Underwood sang “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The woman in the song had a barTimaeus experience as she shouts out in despair and hope: Jesus, take the wheel!

“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!!!”

We humans by design have a natural fight or flight response. Our adrenaline kicks in and sometimes we can even accomplish superhuman feats. 

We see this as each of these people call out to Jesus. The experience of barTimaeus and the woman in the song are testimony to the coordination between our spiritual and physical lives as we hear them call out with all that they are.

In both cases these people find themselves in a very empty place. They are alone, apart, scarred, fearful, and in need of great and immediate help. In both cases they cry out to Jesus. Their bodies and spirits are united in seeking His help. In both cases, with barTimaeus the factual case, the plea is answered.

Did these people live in Strength of Faith? 

For barTimaeus, he absolutely lived by faith. He knew that Jesus could save and heal him.  It is why he called out despite being criticized. As such, once Jesus summoned him, he thew aside his cloak – which was both garment and symbol for a beggar who depended on others and went to Jesus. He knew he wouldn’t need that cloak and that he would see. He was fully trusting by the Strength of his Faith.

In the song, after the car is saved, the woman prays, first seeking forgiveness and then pledging amendment of life. She certainly had faith, but no real Strength of Faith. She had not been living faith; hers was dead and cold. She was blocking faith out until the urgency of the situation.

What comes next for each of them is what is most instructive for us and exemplary. Both barTimaeus and the woman moved forward continuing then to live in Strength of Faith. barTimaeus went on to follow Jesus. The woman, freed, recommitted to Strength of Faith.

Both had their shout of plea changed to a shout of proclamation. Both went on to witness boldly to Jesus (even when people told them not to) with all they had. So must we.

Strength of Faith.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith.

We have talked for many weeks about Strength of Faith. We have seen the way people approached Jesus and how He told them to have faith, to not doubt. We have seen various ways we can put Strength of Faith into action and how we share our Strength of Faith with each other and the world. We have contemplated the ways we might invite others to experience God, right here, with the confidence that comes from Strength of Faith.

Today, we are presented with a reflection on the source of our Strength of Faith. Strength of Faith comes solely from Jesus, from doing what He did.

Wait a minute, you mean I can be like Jesus, I can live the way He did?

As we heard in today’s gospel, James and John got it wrong. They were looking for the sort of strength that does not come from faith, but rather comes from position and status. In short, Jesus tells them that they will also have to face what He had to face: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” If you want to be like Me, you must be — like Me.

The rest of the disciples become upset, not because of what James and John asked, but because they wanted the same. Jesus tells them all, you must stop thinking the way the world thinks, but rather be like Me, be humble, serve, suffer if you are called to do so, and know that your strength comes from Strength of Faith. It comes from the sort of faith that says I am less so that God can be shown to be more.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews fully understands human weakness. The writer also knew that he himself was weak, had failed, had sinned, was constantly tempted by the desire for power and status. Facing what we all face, knowing what we all know, he arrives at an answer: My Strength of Faith comes from being most like Jesus Who was like us and did not sin.

You see, Jesus was tested exactly as we are. His humanity faced all we face. In fact, He was attacked constantly – yet He did not sin. He overcame. So can we.

You mean I can be like Jesus; I can live the way He did? The answer is yes. We are called to confidence, to walk and act in the Strength of Faith that tells us we can live as Jesus did.

Strength of Faith.

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.”

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. We are focusing on our growth in Strength of Faith.

Today, in our exploration of Strength of Faith we encounter a problem that seems to have been a long-lasting one. In fact, it stretched from the time of Moses (and likely well before) to the time of Jesus and on to today. It is the problem, some would say of jealousy, but more in-fact it is about maturity of faith.

In both cases, the Spirit of God moves among His people. In Moses’ time it was the chosen seventy elders. In Jesus’ time, it was those who were moved to do mighty things in Jesus’ name.

In Jesus’ time, the people who set out to do work in His Name “felt” Him in their hearts, perhaps after hearing Him, or maybe just hearing of Him. They were motivated to do what many who encountered Jesus could not do, i.e., set aside their lives, careers, fortunes and go out to work for God. That took maturity and strength of faith.

See the juxtaposition of people who carried out the Spirit’s work in strength and maturity of faith – fearless and those who were not so sure. In both cases, the strength and maturity of those called to act kept the Holy Spirit’s good work moving.

Well, here we are, 2021. The Spirit of God is among and within us. This perspective on strength and maturity of faith cannot be more apropos to our upcoming centennial celebration and our honoring the work of the Polish National Union today. In both these cases, the Holy Spirit inspired people to work in Jesus Holy Name and accomplish amazing things. They in turn set aside all else to do what the Spirit called them to do. They acted with strength and maturity of faith, not jealously, nor apprehension, sure of their footsteps for they knew Jesus was walking with them.

Were there people like John going to Jesus or the young man who ran to Moses saying, hey look what they are doing, let’s stop them? Certainly! Yet here is where strength and maturity combine to get God’s work done. A person who refuses to grow in strength of faith will not step forward. A person without maturity of faith will constantly question the Holy Spirit’s direction, and if challenged they will stop.

In the end, and this is the struggle, we are called to trust. We are never called to build roadblocks or speed bumps; we must not stop. We are called to say yes to the inspiration in us, to act maturely and to remain strong doing the Sprit’s work.

Strength of Faith

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Hope Is Here! It has been so encouraging to gather as a church and uncover all the ways that our faith is strengthened when we find hope in our relationship with Jesus and each other. We have learned that there is hope for the weary because we don’t have to carry our burdens on our own. There is hope for the broken because forgiveness is offered to us in love. There is hope for the underdog because with God we can do anything. This week we deal with a special subject, with one of the hardest. Is there hope for the doubter?

The gospel illustrates a concept that can be very difficult for us: That service and the attitude of a child is the way to the Kingdom, and that suffering is the prelude to glory. St. James tells us what he learned at Jesus’ side: That we must walk in purity of spirit, gentleness, mercy, constancy, and sincerity as cultivators of peace. This raises a problem of doubt, doubt that those things, that way of living, can make us victorious. Can it?

James’ illustrations of the world’s way the way we are to live presents a juxtaposition. We get that, but still doubt because the worldly seem to be doing so much better. So, I doubt, ‘Can Jesus’ promise be true?’

Each walk has markers. Each of them leads a person on a different path. One is a disordered path with disordered loyalties and desires. The other is well ordered with loyalty to God and a desire only to do God ordered things. One is a life with finality, the other life without end. But, can that promise alone ease my doubt? 

Doubt has become a common occurrence today. People have failed us. There is so much false information out there. Covid-19 has overwhelmed us. Each of these caused doubt and we wonder where God is. Certainly, the disciples must have doubted as Jesus spoke of the road to Jerusalem and the outcome He faced, death and resurrection. They probably doubted that being last and childlike would work out so great. We are there with the disciples and struggle against doubt.

There are many struggling with their faith. They may have lost hope that Jesus is who they thought he was. How does Jesus respond to them, to me when I doubt or struggle? He would welcome the questions, the conversation, the wrestle. He knows that honest doubt will find honest answers.

So Jesus left us, the Church, to listen to those who doubt for what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. Where does the doubt come from? Where is the hurt, pain, and struggle? We are so blessed to be that congregation who is willing to listen and provide hope to the doubting. We empathize and express compassion. We allow ourselves to feel others’ hurt, pain, and struggle, and that equips us to meet needs and build a bridge for the doubting back to faith and hope. The answer to doubt is providing Jesus Who is hope for all. What we do here helps us and all to see Jesus as the antidote to doubt.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of a trip where his ship encountered a terrible storm. In the dark belly of the ship, the passengers were frightened and worried. They were filled with doubt. One of the men finally ventured out and to the upper deck, where he saw the captain quietly on the bridge. With a tranquil face, he looked out across the sea and gave orders. He turned to the man and smiled. The man made his way back to the cabin where the other passengers were huddled together. In response to their questions and doubt, he comforted them by saying, “I have seen the captain’s face, and all is well.” That is what we must say.

Yes, hope is here for the doubting for Jesus is here with us. Looking into the face of Christ and holding onto each other we know all is well. We have peace.

Strength of Faith

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

Today we again take a brief break from Mark’s gospel account and this time venture into Luke’s account of the challenge Jesus faced from the lawyer. How do I get to eternal life? What must I do?

The Jewish faith, from outward appearance, even to this day, has a very strong emphasis on doing. Wear this, wash this way, cook this way, spend the Sabbath like this. Pray this way. Responding to Jesus, the lawyer could have just quoted every one of the 613 commandments and all the rabbinical commentary on them. If you do all this, you shall live.

Perhaps the lawyer was just a bit wiser than that. For him, it came down to the two core commandments of love, love of God, love of neighbor.

Then confusion set in, for the 613 commandments make very clear distinction between insiders and outsiders. Commandment 166 and 167: A bastard child cannot become an Israelite. A eunuch or sexually mutilated man may not enter the community. Or 596 and 597: Destroy the seven Canaanite nations. Not to let any of them remain alive. Then there is always 449: A skin-diseased person will tear his clothes, grow his hair long, and cry out, “unclean, unclean.”

Could these people possibly be my neighbors? Do I have to love them? They are outside the community.

We all know that Jesus takes the Samaritan businessman, and uses him as the example of right behavior, for proper brotherly love, for strength of faith. Jesus is being totally politically incorrect and inappropriate for the Samaritans were more despised than the gentiles. A Samaritan woman was always considered “unclean.” Jews and Samarians hated each other. Some Pharisees even accused Jesus of having a demon and being a Samaritan Himself, as insulting as one could get.

This detour into Luke tells us two things. The first is that our studies on strength of faith cannot be just studies. Faith does not live if it is on a bookshelf. We are to live out our strength of faith. We must move from discipleship to apostleship, from students to doers of love.

The second lesson is that strength of faith calls us to the harder work. Ever meet one of those people who when presented with a challenge are already underway in taking it on; before the question is even over? Yes, that is how we are to be. Strength of Faith must be translated not only into doing, but into heroic doing. We are called to love in great self-sacrificing ways, to conquer even the most challenging call to love in Jesus’ name. That is what we must do.

Strength of Faith.

Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

For weeks we have focused on Strength of Faith, and perhaps it is time to focus on its opposite, strength of despair. 

It often astounds me to see people struggling so much, to see the level of despair they are wrapped up in. I see young families struggling with schedules and financial resources. I see middle aged people trying to make sense of relationships that seem to be breaking down. I see older folks facing decline in health and vitality. At the same time, I know people who face the exact same challenges, yet persevere and come to victory.

Listen to a few words from Adam Zamoyski’s 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

Although Moscow boasted a French Catholic church whose priest had remained at his post, churchgoing did not figure among the activities of the soldiers. A handful of officers, came to mass or confession, and the pastor was only asked to give Christian burial on two occasions. He went around the hospitals to talk to the wounded, but found them interested only in their physical wants, not their spiritual needs. He said: ‘They do not seem to believe in an afterlife. I baptized several infants born to soldiers, which is the only thing they still care about, and I was treated with respect.’

The difference between people who face the same challenges, and yet have different outcomes is the presence of both faith and the fellowship of Church in their lives. Zamoyski points to soldiers amid despair and on the losing side who were so self-iinvolved they refused to see God in their midst. Their strength of despair overtook faith and led them to give up, to seek no help. They were left with only despair.

You see, we have the actual answer. We have a God of love and complete forgiveness. We have a God ordained way-of-life. We have the Bread of Eternal Life and the Cup of Salvation. We have the “all” so many seek because Jesus said, ‘do this, live this way, receive My promises,’ and so we do.

I can attest this from my own life. Any time where I absented God my life became the definition of absence. It was a turning inward to despair. Yet when I turned to God and committed to live the life of the Church, I was made whole. The challenges did not end, only they were transformed by God.

I imagine the deaf man lived in despair, but then he was brought to Jesus who said: “Ephphatha!”, “Be opened!” Once he was opened his despair was transformed and so are we.

Strength of Faith

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

As we return to the Gospel according to St. Mark, we are asked to pause in our growth in Strength of Faith to assess exactly how changed we are. How fully do we live as Jesus did? How do we walk the gospel walk?

Moses is presenting the Lord’s commandments to the people. These commandments were given by God in love to help His people to grow toward Him.

As you may recall from a few weeks back, the heart in Hebrew, the Lev, means the whole self. God was seeking the hearts of His people, a relationship with the whole self of each of them as individuals and them as a community.  Through these laws they would live in relationship with Him and grow ever closer to Him in strength of faith.

We know our God is a God of relationship from the identity of God as Trinity, to His creation, to the salvation He won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

To remain in relationship, God gave us His Holy Spirit Who dwells with us and helps us in the process of loving Him more fully and deeply. He gave us each other, the reason I am so happy and blessed to be here in this time and moment where we are for each other.

So, today (and everyday) we are asked to assess how we are changed by our relationship with God, how our faith is strengthened, how deep we are willing to go with God and His Church. We also figure where we must improve.

The people Jesus encountered, the leaders and officials, no longer cared for depth of relationship. They left the heart behind and reduced relationship with God to motions and actions. They did not have Strength of Faith, but rather adherence to ritual for the sake of the ritual. Growth ended when life became mere performance.

St. James, writing less than a decade after Jesus Ascension, took the time to remind the people to live fully in Strength of Faith. We must not reduce our faith to motions but rather live it out. St. James says: Do not hold back, do not sell yourself short, be all-in just as God is all in for you. He tells us that we have been changed and we are to live changed from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits. We are a new creation.

We need to be whole-hearted, whole-self livers of new life in Jesus. We are something remarkably special. Let us then check-in on how we live changed and new in strength of faith.